Day Forty-Six: Some Towns Are Shadows, Fading in the Rain
by Tom Noonan
7:30: Wake up
The sheets are wet. Again. I didn’t piss the bed, well not quite. It’s sweat, which is one part urine, one part water, and, in this case, all parts fear. So, in a way, I did piss the bed. Just not in the way my little brother Tommy used to when we were growing up. “If I have something to drink, I’ll wet the bed.” He slept on the top bunk.
Waking up to soaking sheets wasn’t new. It was comforting.
The sun invades my bedroom through two wall length windows to my right. I haven’t gotten around to buying curtains yet. I know better than to turn towards the sun. Instead, I face the white wall opposite the windows. The sunlight projects a shadow there. The image is enormous compared to the real thing. It isn’t a reflection, but not quite a lie.
The shadow on the wall begins to shift. The lump on the bed stirs, changing form. It travels across the wall and towards the doorway.
Not a reflection, but not quite a lie.
7:40: Review Schedule
The schedule for the day is posted on the refrigerator. The black lump stands against the wall beside me while I read how my day will hopefully play out. Each minute is accounted for.
Dr. Lewis suggested the schedule to me. He said it would keep me focused. It would keep me out of my own head. It would, eventually, keep my sheets dry.
“Being alone in your head is a very dangerous place to be,” he would say, “Always stay focused on completing a task. Live every minute with a singular devoted purpose. Have a goal for that minute, and constantly work to achieve each of those goals. Don’t settle for anything less than a full day of perfect minutes. Then move onto seconds.”
I haven’t even perfected hours.
I eat the same meal everyday: ham, mushroom, and Swiss cheese omelet accompanied by two slices of lightly burnt, heavily buttered toast and one glass of orange juice. Fresh squeezed. It’s more time consuming that way. I’ve learned to use as much time as possible on each task, to take the long road. This is why I grow my own oranges instead of buying a carton. Self-sufficiency kills time.
Unaccounted for time is the biggest danger. I have to stay out of my own head. This is the only thing I’m sure of. Dr. Lewis told me to make a schedule.
The black lump mimics me.
It’s free to follow me along the unbroken white walls in my house. Dr. Lewis doesn’t know about the lump from my bed. Dr. Lewis does know about my dreams. He does know about my journal, another suggestion, where I write down my dreams. Or, as he puts it, my “visions”. Write them down when they’re clear in my mind, right after I wake up.
I didn’t write down last night’s vision. It didn’t fit into my schedule. Breakfast is first. It’s always first. I have to make a few changes so I can have some time to write. I should take time away from showering. Five minutes. Dr. Lewis told me that one day I could put all my writings into a book. Make some money off my condition.
Exploit my madness; this could be my method.
Dr. Lewis said that all great artists were mad and that great novels were the offspring of insanity and talent. Vonnegut had seen war. Fitzgerald had seen wealth.
I had seen murder. Once as a bystander, but now as the executioner. The villain.
When the light is gone, and the black lump disappeared, I dream in murder, a new victim every night. I’m the one silencing their screams. I’m the one watching their eyes roll back from this life and into their head. There is no pattern to my murders, Dr. Lewis says, only the fact that I am the one committing them remains the same. Each victim is different. Faces from a crowd. An extra from the movies I’m no longer permitted to watch.
Dr. Lewis isn’t right about everything, though, because I haven’t told him everything. I never told him about the warmth that spreads beneath my skin, holding me, when I watch them fight to keep their lives. I didn’t mention the feeling that I could change the future, that I could control and shape the world. Most people spend their entire lives trying to make a difference. I had already achieved that, if only in my head.
I am giving these people a personalized Judgment Day. Everyone is the center of his or her own universe, and I’m ending each one, destroying it completely within minutes. Dr. Lewis says people always remember others for their final moments, that there is something special in those fleeting seconds. I’m giving them these moments. I give their lives meaning, briefly.
But there’s a monster in there, hidden. Something that knows God laughs at our plans and wants him to look at what it has done and weep. I don’t know if they deserve it. I’m not sure it would matter. There is a monster in my head, hidden.
Dr. Lewis wants to keep me out of my head. He told me to always stay focused.
Last night’s victim was an older man. He slept alone, didn’t scream too much. It was almost as if he was expecting me, even hoping I would come. His eyes were full with tears, but he never cried. He didn’t even try to escape.
In my head I could manipulate the world however I felt. I could deny a man his future, a chance to see his grandkids grow up. If he had any. In my head I wasn’t a God, but not quite a human.
When he stopped breathing, I woke up, suddenly outside my head. My sheets were soaking.
8:40: Mow the Lawn
I had told Dr. Lewis about the murders but lied about how I felt during them. This kept him calm. If he knew the truth, he would begin to worry again. It would be just like our first sessions together. He used to think I was going to start living out my dreams.
After a while, his fears wore down.
My hands aren’t strong enough to do it anyway, to kill someone. I haven’t told Dr. Lewis, but I’ve never really had that kind of strength as long as I can remember. I remember hunting with my dad. I remember missing the deer, shooting the ground directly in front of it. I remember the force of the shot knocking me back and getting pulled up, “Son, you’re going out a youngster, but coming home a hunter.” He was wrong.
But I had to stay focused.
The bed lump stalks me while I mow the lawn. It’s pushing a stroller across the freshly-cut grass. All the houses in my development are white. I cut in straight lines. I’m not hard to lose.
9:10: Visit Elaine
Elaine isn’t a person. Well, not anymore. A person is consciousness and thought. We think therefore we are. She doesn’t think therefore she isn’t. She can’t be again.
Elaine was murdered. Now leaves fall and decay above here. Her name is the only memorial, a monument of what once was.
I kneel in front of the rotting wooden cross that hides beneath the trees in our backyard. My backyard. I stopped bringing her flowers years ago. They would always die too. I’d only brought her name.
Elaine, when she still existed, asked to be buried back here so that she wouldn’t be in a cemetery. She wanted to embrace her transformation. She didn’t even want a marker. I broke that promise. I need to know where her body is, where she doesn’t exist. I hold her name and her words. “Wouldn’t it be lovely if we were old? We’d have survived all this.” All I can remember are her eyes, how you could tell she was alive just looking at them.
I was Butch Cassidy. Roy Hobbes.
I run my hands through the grass she’s helping grow. Even after death she remained nurturing. She was nurturing. She is nurturing. She always will be nurturing. But under my knees there is also a memorial to the power of murder, same as the power in my head.
Dr. Lewis has theories. That’s all he has. No facts. No diagnosis. Just theories. Theories he uses to help me understand my condition. The most interesting of these theories is that I developed this condition to cope with my wife’s murder. He says I want the world to feel how I felt. I want to take away someone that other people care about. Not revenge, but not quite malice.
9:30: Clean the House
The schedule is thrown off again. I spent more than the allotted twenty minutes visiting Elaine’s memorial. It’s almost time for my meeting with Dr. Lewis. Before that, I have to clean the house.
Vacuum, sweep, dust, and wipe everything down. The house looks exactly as it did before. Exactly as it has since I moved in. Since Elaine and I moved in.
10:00: Meet With Dr. Lewis
Dr. Lewis is always on time, and I’m never ready. When the doorbell rings, the bed lump runs after me while I finish putting my supplies away. If anything is out of place, Dr. Lewis will think I’m not following my schedule, and I would have to start on medication again. When I first met Dr. Lewis, he had me heavily medicated. He slowly weaned me off, seeing if my “visions” got any worse. They didn’t.
I finally answer the door, and Dr. Lewis smiles at me and asks if I’m ready for him. “Certainly,” I barely get out. I had been behind on my schedule, but I made up time nicely. Still, I’m nervous.
“Becoming unfocused again?” Dr. Lewis asks, but I know he’s only feigning suspicion. He knows this whole concept of time management is difficult for me. It’s the reason that I could never hold a full-time job. I’m still living off Elaine’s life insurance. Dr. Lewis handles that for me, but he promised that I would be fit to work soon. I just need to prove I can handle it first.
“I took some extra time to write down my dreams this morning. I wanted to make sure it was all there. So you could find a pattern.”
We sit on the two white couches in my living room. He speaks calmly, “Thank you, you know that’s very helpful, but I’m afraid finding a pattern is becoming more and more difficult. In every dream, you seem to be going after a person from a different race, social class, and gender. This is only going off the writings you have given me. If you could note all of your surroundings in the dreams a little more clearly, maybe the settings could form a pattern.”
I’m a detective in my own crime.
“Would you like some tea, Dr. Lewis?”
“No, thank you. I just came from Mr. Francois’s house and had more than my fill of tea. Can we begin? My son has a soccer game at 4, and I still have to see a few more patients, some that require much longer visits.”
“Please, go right ahead.”
He pulls out a pad and paper and a folder with my name on it. “Okay. Other than your dream last night, have you had any other visions today? Any at all? Even for a split second?”
“No,” I lie. He writes this down.
“Have you heard any voices or heard any screaming? Anything instructing you? Scaring you?”
I lie again, “No.” He writes that down.
“Have you had any hallucinations? Have you seen any people who aren’t actually there?”
This time I don’t lie, “No.” He writes that down.
“Can you read to me what you have written down about last night’s vision?”
I tell him about the old man, the empty bed, and the tears. He takes notes and shuffles through his papers while I talk. I’m distracted. I look out my window, staring just below the sun. When I finish, he closes the folder and puts his pad inside. He stands up. His work here is done.
“It seems like you’re doing very well, and I’m encouraged by your progress. Daytime visions are down to zero. You’re sticking to the schedule. You should be very pleased with these results.”
Dr. Lewis heads towards the front door. “Until next time…”
“Wait,” I interrupt him. I never interrupt him. It’s a sign of aggression, which is not a good thing to indicate I am capable of. “You said… I mean, I remember we talked about me returning to work. When I was doing… I’m doing better.”
“So we did,” Dr. Lewis advances calmly. “I think it would be best if we gave it another few weeks, see if the visions stay in your dreams. You’ve made a lot of progress, so it’s not all bad news. We’ll look into some working options in a couple weeks. How does that sound?”
“How does it sound?” My face fills with blood, and that heat, and Dr. Lewis steps in front of the window, into the sunlight. I can only see where he isn’t. I stand up.
“You should stay seated,” Dr. Lewis warns. “I understand you’re upset, but you don’t want to regress. Show me you can suppress this. If you want to work again, you have to suppress this anger.”
“I’m going to be angry if there’s something to be angry about,” I snarl, reaching down to launch my teacup across the room. Its brown contents sweep down the wall, recklessly rolling onto the floor. “I’ve been hiding for years! You’ve been hiding. You’ve been hiding me.” The volume has been turned up. It’s all in my ears: the birds, the old pipes, but no cars. There were never any cars.
“Thoughts of anger are as guilty as actions. You know that. One leads to the other.”
“But I haven’t done anything! I’ve never hurt anyone! You act as if I didn’t hire you. I asked for your help. What if I don’t need it anymore? Would you even tell me?” I walk towards Dr. Lewis. I feel like I’m on strings, as if someone is pulling me forward. I’m just trying to keep up. My right hand is firm and steady, clenched in a tight fist.
“You never asked for my help,” Dr. Lewis says, still lost in the sunlight. “Not you. “
“I did. I remember I did. That number… 555-9818. I called you. That day plays in my head a lot, like a movie reel. Over and over.”
“You don’t have a telephone,” Dr. Lewis words fade out. Suddenly I’m in a different house. It’s all brick. I’m walking down a dark hallway towards the sound of screaming. A woman is screaming. Then I run towards a closed door, surrounded in light escaping through the space between door and frame. I lower my shoulder, launching myself at it. The door is thrown from its hinges. I look up at a woman, still screaming, on the bed. She’s holding a phone but only screams. I can hear a faint voice on the other end, so I knock it away.
She looks familiar.
I put my hands on her throat, crushing her will. I am powerful. And then: the apocalypse. She stops moving. She’s not breathing. Another universe brought to an end.
I stand up to admire the ruins. I try to put a name to the lifeless, familiar face, to recognize someone. Then there’s the trigger. The face I couldn’t picture even though I try everyday.
The walls fall around me, coming down and leaving me, alone, with her, in darkness. I cry. I’m without the visions now. I don’t want to see anymore. Then I’m gone.
10:25: Water the Garden
I wake up. Dr. Lewis is next to me. Well not Dr. Lewis. What once was Dr. Lewis. The memorial to Dr. Lewis. He still has my handprints burned into his neck. The ground around us is still warm. I hold his name.
His folder is open, its contents spilled over the floor beside his body. I reach over and grab a stack. There are pictures. All of them faces from my dreams. Not drawings, but pictures. Photographs. Dr. Lewis’s handwriting is beside them. I had been identifying victims. My victims. My real victims, not just in my head. It was all a confession.
And then there are the movies, the memories. The hunting and the words. Elaine’s hair. Tommy. They’re all there on paper in titles I knew I could have recognized before, that I had recognized once. But not now. I couldn’t know them. It didn’t work that way.
I see the front door. It’s locked. I lower my shoulder, launching myself. Nothing. I keep going. I feel my shoulder dislocate. The pain is sudden, but the door finally gives way.
I stumble out onto the sidewalk and into the pure sunlight, falling forward towards the entrance to the development. I haven’t been outside these walls in three years, maybe more. For the first time I wish the world could be just these houses, just this block. I know I can’t leave, but this isn’t about leaving. It never was.
A woman wearing a white coat, same as Dr. Lewis, is walking on the other side of the street. She seems to know me. I don’t recognize her. She just watches me. Frozen.
I reach the entrance. I’ve never thought of it as an exit before. The gate is open. I’m a little let down. Freedom is never an open gate. But this isn’t freedom.
I cross the threshold and something under my skin starts to pulse, beginning in my head then spreading throughout. Electricity. It rattles everything, and I fall to the pavement, finally noticing a city in the distance smothered in light. There’s no control anymore, no free will. I fall out of history.
Then another trigger. One more vision. And it becomes reality. A new history. I dream therefore I remember. Therefore, I always was.
10:45: Self Examination
The sunlight diminishes above me. My sky fades out. Then everything slows. My breath. My heart.
This is my decision. I was given a choice, and I made this one. I never wore a wedding ring. I always knew this, but the light had been too bright.
The bed lump lies motionless beside me on the pavement. I stop breathing. My heart stops. It all stops. Everything is over.
Dr. Lewis created the shadows. Not reflections, but not quite lies